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prediction:
interspecies transmutation observed
darwin's great insight fully confirmed
June 2002

      An unfortunate and ultimately pointless debate rages between those who find the scientific basis of evolution compelling, and those who choose not to believe on religious [1] grounds.

     Science and religion inhabit two very different worlds, demanding neither reconciliation or supremacy. Science values proof before faith, while religion values faith before proof. Indeed, God bestows his greatest blessings on those who trust in his existence without the benefit of miracles or peer pressure. Ironically, creationist attempts to overturn Darwinism on "technical grounds" undermines the very foundations of religion, and are ultimately self-defeating. For if God's existence is a necessary precondition for "Intelligent Design" to make sense, then God's non-existence is a logical consequence of the blatant failures of creationism to explain anything but the prejudices of its proponents.

     Surprisingly, despite all the noise and emotions, both scientists and creationists agree on almost all aspects of Darwin's great discovery- reducing the debate to one small, but important point. And that is the subject of this prediction.

     Darwin's Law [2] of Evolution by Natural Selection (traditionally referred to as a "theory" to honor Darwin's original treatise, but now confirmed through observation and experiment) consists of five main tenets. First, he describes how species can change in shape and character through selective breeding. No reasonable person, whether creationist or scientist, doubts selective breeding can morph a wolf into a pony-sized mastiff. Or evolve the same wild animal into a comically shrunk, rat-sized Chihuahua. Second, he describes how species are neither completely uniform nor immutable, and how these natural variations are the grist upon which human selective breeding grinds. Once a new characteristic is established, these variations persist from generation to generation, and are systematically and predictably passed from parent to child. Again, all but the most radical creationists accepts these facts, widely employed since the birth of animal husbandry and agriculture [3] . Third, he recognized that Nature, through selective pressures like environmental shifts or changes in predation, can play the role of humans in selective breeding. Whether man selects a long-haired dog for its appearance, or colder winters favor the survival of thick furred over short-haired canines, the result is identical. Again, the power of evolution by Natural Selection is confirmed though field work (such as Darwin's finches), genetic mapping, and the experience of anyone who chooses to listen openly to nature.

     Fourth, everyone agrees that, while changes within a species are indisputable and can be observed within a lifetime, no one has ever seen (nor is there a recorded observation after 5000 years of written history) one species transmuting to another. Fish never become fowl, insects never become birds, and monkeys certainly never become humans.

     With all this agreement on Darwin's four key tenets, why is there so much fuss about evolution? Ah, but for one small, annoying small point. Modern scientists, following Darwin's last great insight, have proven an accumulation of small changes can lead to an entirely new species, given sufficient time. Creationists deny there is either enough time (i.e. the Earth is only a few thousand years old according to one biblical interpretation), or small changes can never accumulate into a species sized change. Thus, the argument is not over the Evolution of a species by Natural Selection, but the Transmutation between species under any circumstances, including Natural Selection.

     Scientific evidence for species-changing evolution was already quite strong in the time of Darwin, but indirect. Now, with the advent of DNA mapping, we can clearly read evolution's history in our genes, and track genetic change and reuse from 4 billion-year-old strains of bacteria to their expression of proteins in modern humans. Yet we still have never seen a species transform.

     Thus my prediction. Based on our growing understanding of genetic coding, gene switching, protein unfolding and new observational tools, sometime in the next 25 years one species will be observed to transform into another. And back again- it will be a simple, single mutation which triggers the change[4]. If one had to guess, an insect is the perfect candidate- many already "transmute" from caterpillar to butterfly. Such an observation would solidify Darwin's Law of Evolution's place among the greatest of all scientific insights. Reproducible species transmutation will not convince a creationist of Darwin's validity- loose thinking and bad science provide a convenient escape clause. But most of us can finally concentrate on the future rather than debating the past. And let science and religion coexist in their own, compelling dominions.

 

On The Origin Of Species By Means of Natural Selection, Or The Preservation of Favoured Races In The Struggle For Life- Charles Darwin, 1859

Descent of Man, Charles Darwin, 1871

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[1] Religious group vary in their opinions over evolution nearly as much as they do over their interpretations of scripture (clearly, God either mumbles when he speaks, or we are hard of hearing, for no two groups receive the same message from one God). Pope John Paul declared evolution is not in conflict with the teaching of the Bible or the Church, and left its validity to be decided by the tools and methods of science (although in July 05, Pope Benedict XVI seems poised to undermine this interpretation). The Episcopalians generally are comfortable with an "old earth" and Darwinism, and see the mechanism of evolution as being set in motion by God to keep order in his world. Reformed Jews generally agree with Darwinism, though they lack a central authority on which to rely. The Dali Lama finds no contradictions between science and Buddhism. Conversely, most Evangelical Christian groups reject Darwinism as a threat to their adamant belief in a young Earth and biblical inerrancy.

[2] An Hypothesis is an informed speculation offered to explain a set of physical observations. A Theory is a hypothesis that has been experimentally tested and pretty soundly confirmed. A  Law is a Theory so well confirmed and so widely accepted, that no reputable scientist doubts its truth. Indeed, we are so comfortable with the accuracy of that law, that we use it to prove or disprove other hypothesis. By these definitions, Darwinian Evolution lays somewhere between a theory and a law. On the other hand, Intelligent Design is a hypothesis that failed as a theory, since it makes no testable predictions, and its attacks on Darwinism are shallow and easily dismissed. In fact, Astrology is a much strong hypothesis than Intelligent design, since it makes numerous, easily tested predictions about fate, love and the probability of individual actions. Of course, when these predictions are tested, they are no more accurate than chance. But at least Astrology comes close to meeting the requirements of a scientific theory. Intelligent design is dumber than a box of rocks.

In August 2005 the President seemed to indicate he supported teaching "Intelligent Design" along side evolution. Many scientific societies quickly pointed out he confused dogma with science- read their considered and sensible positions here.

[3] Many creationists insist Darwinian evolution is impossible, because the accumulation of small random mutations would never accidentally align in perfect synchrony to produce a wing, or an eye, or life itself. In this they are absolutely correct- complex life is probabilistically improbable. But it's also an irrelevant argument- because Darwin never claimed evolution is random. (Think about it- how likely is it that Darwin and the tens of thousands of scientists following in his footsteps, would make such a trivial calculational error?) Instead, Darwin realized natural selection FAVORS those mutations which increase the chance of survival. Procreation by natural selection is hardly a random process- indeed, it is brutally discriminating. In the previous example, cold weather systematically favored the survival of long-haired dogs from year to year, because the short-haired dogs die off every winter. With only random procreation, neither outcome is favored, and evolution is slowed to a stop. On the other hand, with Darwinian selection after a few generations long hair dogs always outnumber short haired- despite the long odds against this "unlikely" outcome. (see this article for an amazing example of rapid evolution in crickets after a new predator was introduced).

Random mutations- YES, Random evolution- NO.

He also realized, through the study of comparative zoology (now exquisitely confirmed by DNA analysis) that small, likely mutations can drag along large, seemingly improbable changes. For example, a single mutation might tell an insect to make 10 legs instead of 2 by just replaying the leg "program" eight more times (compared to the astronomically unlikely process of thousands of small mutations transitioning smoothly between two and three legs, creating structures of no intermediate survival value). It's as if a mason building a two foot long garden wall simply misread the number "2" on his work order as a "10". So he builds a ten foot long wall without bothering to redraw his plan detailing the placement of thousands of individual bricks. One mutation instead of thousands. Nature constantly re-uses and re-purposes old designs in new environments- just as Darwin predicted.

When you hear a Creationist use words like "random", "unlikely", "intermediate forms" and so on, they are sowing confusion by arguing against a theory completely unrelated to Darwinian Evolution. Perhaps they never bothered to read and learn about the actual science of evolution. In this case they are merely ignorant. If they know the truth and choose to ignore it, then they are simply lying to pursue their own agenda.

[4] Note added in November 2010: Recent studies have demonstrated that snails can mutate into slugs (i.e. no shells) in one generation through embryonic exposure to platinum. Not yet full proof of a species change- the resulting slugs do not breed true, but an amazing step along the way.

 

 

 


Contact Greg Blonder by email here - Modified - Copyright Genuine Ideas, LLC.